Down the street from Doug’s Mom’s house, there is a large mill where trees are delivered and processed. The place hums with activity every day of the week, and from the living room window here we can see the pillar of smoke that marks the industry of the place. When we visited here before Mercy’s first birthday, I was narrating the scenery (as mothers of small children become quite adept at doing), and when we passed the immense piles of harvested trees I told her that the trees were sleeping, wanting to somehow protect her from the truth.
Well, that was a year ago, and now our little girl needs no help narrating the scenery. She continues to amaze us with her running commentary on all that she is seeing and taking in here. For example, she is currently fascinated by moss. She will spot it on the ground, on trees, on sewer plates, and she will point to it, beam at it, and when asked by her Daddy where moss grows she will tell you: “In the Northwest.”
The first day that we passed by the mill, I was already anticipating what her reaction would be because her favorite creatures on the planet right now are Snorts. What is a Snort? Well, if you have ever read the book, “Are You My Mother?”, you know that Snorts are large construction vehicles like bulldozers or backhoes; the things you see on the side of the road when there is construction on the freeway. I have called these things Snorts my entire life, and in fact when writing this I had to ask my husband: what exactly is the correct word for Snorts? Like her mother, Mercy has also latched on to this name, though broadening its application to include cranes (of which there are many in downtown L.A. right now), tractors, and even lawnmowers. One day, when driving on a L.A. freeway, we saw a whole collection of Snorts on the side of the road. A new category emerged: there were now Mommy Snorts, Daddy Snorts, Baby Snorts, and Snort Families. So now, when we drive past a construction vehicle, we will hear from the back seat: “Mommy Nort, Baby Nort…where Daddy Nort?” or some like commentary.
I knew that upon seeing the mill, Mercy would likely explode with a complete Snort sensory overload. Snorts of every color shape and size. Oh, the family units to be determined and named…
As we approached the mill, I told her that we were going to drive past Snort City. Her eyes got big and she strained to see out her window. And Snort City did not disappoint. A huge land of huffing and puffing Snorts was more than she could bear. And so it has been that we make our daily pilgrimage down the road, collecting sticks, and “fishing” in puddles on the way, to visit “Nort City.” Cows and sleeping trees have nothing on the sheer glory of these hulking, heaving creatures, and we have been waved to and honked at by this city’s friendly giants. At night, Mercy no longer asks for the Cinderella song (basically me narrating our Cinderella book with my own musical “version” of the story–thank you, Jesus): “Nort City song, Mama.”
It is incredible, the way Mercy’s mind works. The way her imagination is captured; the way her definitions of things emerge; the way her “reality” is so malleable. What is delightful too is how she is contagious. Every one of us now speaks of Snort City without any hint of that sounding or being absurd.
I wrote the other day about hope. Our ability to believe in God, to have eyes that see the things of Jesus in a shadowed, crowded world, requires an ability to imagine. In my ministry context, and really in my life in general, I think often of Walter Brueggemann’s words in his book, “The Prophetic Imagination”, when he says something like this: “The prophet does not ask if something is viable or practical but if it is imaginable.”
I know that my daughter has been reminding me this week of the power, joy, and potential that lies in our ability to imagine. And I think that, as I enter Advent, Mercy is helping me to understand a really crucial part of hope.